Rough health law fallout tightens key Senate races

Thanks to the fiasco that followed the launch of President Barack Obama's health care law, Democrats are bracing for hard-fought Senate races in states they had hoped to win with ease just two months ago.
AP Wire
Dec 25, 2013

Weeks of technical problems with the health insurance enrollment website and anxiety over insurance cancellations for millions of people have erased early advantages enjoyed by Democratic candidates Gary Peters in Michigan and Mark Udall in Colorado.

As the election year dawns, those problems have widened the narrow opening for Republicans to retake control of the Senate.

"There's not a lot of wiggle room here. Colorado is definitely in play," said Craig Hughes, a Denver-based Democratic consultant who ran Obama's 2012 Colorado campaign and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet's 2010 campaign. "The website was a disaster, and the process of changing insurance is inherently difficult. This is not going to be a smooth process."

Republicans need to pick up six seats to win the Senate in a midterm election year that typically hurts the party in the White House.

A victory in either Michigan or Colorado — both carried by Obama in 2012 and 2008 — would greatly boost their chances. Democrats already are defending Senate seats in seven states that Obama won, including three where incumbents are retiring.

Peters, a third-term congressman, and Udall, a first-term senator, both voted for the 2010 health care bill. They echoed Obama's often repeated but now discredited statement that people who had health insurance before the law took effect could keep it if they were satisfied.

By mid-November, 4.2 million Americans had received insurance cancellation notices, according to an Associated Press review, including at least 225,000 in Michigan.

Not even 7,000 Michigan residents had enrolled through the federal insurance exchange as of Nov. 30, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That number is expected to increase, but the early glitches kept sign-ups well below expectations.

At the same time, unemployment in Michigan hovers above the national average, and its biggest city, Detroit, is in bankruptcy. Democrats are fighting to reverse the historic drop-off in Democratic voter turnout in midterm elections, a problem that's compounded by the fact that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who's also on next year's ballot, is polling well ahead of his little-known Democrat challenger, former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer.

In Colorado, at least 106,000 people had received cancellation notices as of mid-November, while fewer than 10,000 had enrolled in the state-run health insurance exchange. Colorado's economy has performed better than Michigan's, but Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who's also seeking re-election in 2014, has come under fire from the right for his efforts to enact new gun restrictions and to allow gay marriage.

To be sure, Republicans have not seized control of the contests in either state. Some national GOP strategists grumble about the quality of their party's candidates, including Ken Buck in Colorado, who lost his 2010 Senate race to Bennet and is one of three candidates seeking the nomination.

Obama announced Friday that insurance sign-ups have soared across the country in December, following upgrades to the website. The administration also has taken steps to help the 500,000 consumers with canceled policies who have yet to secure new coverage.

Still, recent public polls have shown Peters running even with Republican Terri Lynn Land, a former Michigan secretary of state, in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. Udall's approval in Colorado also has fallen into territory considered vulnerable.

During a campaign swing last week, Peters defended his support for the health law, and refrained from attacking Land for backing House Republicans' October shutdown of the federal government in their fight to defund the law.

"This bill gets us down the road but we've got to keep working on it," Peters said in an interview after a campaign event in Kalamazoo. "This is an election about someone who just wants to repeal the law and has no alternative and someone who is rolling up his sleeves."

Land said she plans to use Peters' claim that policyholders will not lose their coverage as a main campaign point. "When you make that promise, and you don't deliver, it really goes to the credibility," she said.

The policy cancellations broadly link Peters and Udall, as well as other Democrats, to cracks appearing in public perceptions of Obama. Just 42 percent of Americans approve of the job he's doing, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll this month. The poll found 56 percent of Americans said the word "honest" does not describe Obama well.

In Kalamazoo, in GOP-heavy western Michigan, perceptions of the health care law and its impact on the Senate race depend on who you ask.

"These issues can be fixed," said Lucy Bland, director of a food co-op kitchen.

"It going to set us all back for a long time," countered Kevin McLeod, with the area Chamber of Commerce.

Democratic National Committee leaders say publicly they welcome election-year attacks on the health care law, and plan to respond by pointing to the October shutdown. By next fall, they contend, the contour of the Michigan and Colorado Senate races will look more like 2012.

"None of these races have had their fundamentals change" due to problems with implementation of the health care law, said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But Republican strategist Charlie Black notes that former President George W. Bush's believability slipped below 50 percent in November, 2005, a year before Democrats retook control of both houses of Congress. He said voters began questioning Bush's honesty and competence after the failed federal response to Hurricane Katrina that year.

"Obamacare gives both these negatives to Barack Obama," Black said.

___

Comments

Mystic Michael

Yet another hand wringing, "The sky is falling!" silly non-story about the ACA and its supposed political poison. The articles just keep coming and coming - and the Tribune keeps right on publishing them. Yet hardly any of them is actually getting the story right.

Problems with Healthcare (dot) gov have been reduced to well under 1% of all transactions - and it's steadily getting even better. Practically speaking, the website is already a virtual non-issue.

Meanwhile enrollments nationwide, only a portion of which come in through Healthcare (dot) gov, have been increasing dramatically week by week - along with the rate of that increase, which itself has been accelerating more all the time. Positive personal experiences, with the process as well as with the product, have been bubbling up in every state, to refute the gloomy pre-judging of the Negative Nellies and naysayers who are desperate to convince us all that something that is already in process of working "can never work". And reports of those positive personal experiences are becoming more widespread and common with each passing day, as they spread though personal as well as social networks. People are gradually getting the word, directly from those whom they know and trust - the very best sort of feedback.

Anyone who understands what's really going on isn't the least bit surprised that the insurance companies have been cancelling some policies. For one thing, they routinely cancel policies as they wish, and have always done so anyway. But now, they're doing so because they know the crap, no-coverage policies they've peddling all along will never pass legal muster once the ACA comes fully into effect. Getting one's worthless policy cancelled under such conditions is actually a blessing, only thinly-disguised. Anytime the insurance companies are forced to compete for our business - fairly - and are prohibited from abusing us with their usual dirty tricks, it's gotta be a good thing!

By the time next November comes around, most of the current heat, noise and confusion around the ACA will have long since dissipated, and Democrats firmly on record as having supported the ACA will, by and large, be rewarded nicely in the elections. The only real question remains: "Will Democrats succeed in finding their spines in time? Or will they succumb to the usual temptation to shoot themselves in the foot - yet again?"

owell

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Off-topic comments.

Lanivan

Although interesting reading, perhaps some day you will share with us how this has anything whatsoever to do with the topic.

Vladtheimp

A near perfect example of liberal/progressive spin and disinformation - painting racing stripes on an arthritic camel and calling the beast "Secretariat."

Of course, you can't be permitted to make up your own mind about the "worthless" insurance policy that was cancelled by Obama, until in desperation he unilaterally and unconstitutionally "waives" the cancellation and dictates that you can, indeed, keep your "worthless" policy until after the November elections, and your crummy insurer can, indeed, go back to selling those "worthless" policies to you.

Of course your new expensive Obama policies, with obscenely high deductibles and diminished doctor and hospital networks will have to offer contraception and maternity benefits, whether you need them or not, because, well, because Obama said so.

Come the New Year we will learn, even if the mainstream media has to publish it under protest, that fewer people are insured than when Obama decided to revolutionize insurance, redistribute the wealth, and cover the uninsured, while taking over 1/6 of the U.S. economy, an economy that he has single-handedly devastated (see unemployment, see workforce participation rate, see food stamps usage, see unemployment insurance usage, see SSI disability skyrocketing rates, see huge increase in part time employment).

Keep spinning - you may make yourself dizzy but not the rest of us.

Lanivan

You do yourself a disservice to both your argument and your intelligence when you repeatedly use emo-laden and overly-dramatic themes, such as "single-handedly devastated", "revolutionize insurance", and on and on.

If you have a gripe about Obamacare, and clearly you do, why do you feel it necessary to appear legit through flamboyance and theatrics?

Vladtheimp

Pot meet kettle:

"There has always been propaganda, quackery, and other devious means to ridicule, obfuscate, and delay progress. The media hype, the zombie-like focus on the problems and shortcomings of the ACA, the mis- and dis-information that clouds and confuses, and the cries of those who wish to not only stall but reverse progress"

Lanivan

Perhaps this is matter of semantics, or possibly the phenomenon of reading the same words but interpreting them differently, but I find your approach overly-emotional, while the above comment of mine you highlight seems straight-forward (not to mention correct) to me.

Please clarify: Are you rebutting my comment, or trying to saddle me with the same criticism I have of yours? Do you agree or disagree with the statement - in a historical sense, rather than a personal one?

Vladtheimp

Come on, Lanny - "quackery" "propaganda" "devious" "delay progress" "zombie-like" "mis- and dis-information" "clouds and confuses" "cries" are not "emotion laden","overly dramatic" "flamboyant" ? Surely you jest!

Lanivan

Please don't confuse my comment with my occasional habit of jest and retort: Why do you debate the semantics of my statement rather than the context and content of it?

Vladtheimp

Pot meet kettle.

Lanivan

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary". H.L. Mencken

Vladtheimp

"The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it."

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

~H. L. Mencken

Lanivan

Well, I see you have chosen to take on the roll of a "total blast" with your na na boo boo approach to what was merely a suggestion, made in the spirit of bon amie (not the cleanser, although it does make a nice metaphor), that your embrace of emotional and dramatic thematic arguments, in the face of stacks of facts, figures, and statistics to the contrary to advance your argument, in fact not only boxes you into a corner of caricature and unattractive predictability, undermines your intellectual skills (in my humble opinion).

Mystic Michael

You're already dizzy, Vlad. You accuse me of "spinning". Yet you make up so-called "facts", right out of thin air - and it's supposed to be acceptable?

* President Obama is the Chief Executive of the United States - not the CEO of Aetna or Blue Cross / Blue Shield. Precisely how is he supposed to have been able to cancel ANY policies?

* Mere weeks ago, you and your ideological allies were complaining bitterly about the January 1 deadline for policies to meet minimum standards of coverage. The President responded affirmatively to those complaints with an extension of the deadline. Now you're complaining just as bitterly about the President having accommodated you. How is anybody supposed to take your carping seriously, as anything other than blind, indiscriminate political enmity?

* How, exactly, is the President constitutionally prohibited from making any adjustments to the ACA? Please show us precisely where it says so in the U.S. Constitution.

* All available evidence thus far demonstrates that those whose insurance rates will increase under the ACA are in a small minority, compared with the great majority of those whose rates will decrease. What actual "evidence" to the contrary do you actually have, if any?

* You conservatives are constantly harping about the benefits of competition in the marketplace. Well now you have it, as insurance companies will have to compete with one another for your business as never before - no more protected territories, no more protected segments. So what's the problem?

* How exactly is the ACA "taking over one-sixth of the U.S. economy"? It's a market-based solution, the blueprint for which came straight out of the conservative-friendly Heritage Foundation. Insurance companies, which fund the great majority of healthcare services, are still in business. Other than Medicare & Medicaid, which the federal government has been providing for 75 years already, insurance will continue to fund the great majority of healthcare services. So where exactly is this mythic "government takeover"?

I suspect that I'm not the only one here who has grown weary of your constant, irresponsible fear-mongering, distortions, and smears. Back up your statements, or back down. Put up or shut up!

Tri-cities realist

So if legislation only harms the liberties of a "small minority" of citizens, that is OK? Now that IS progressive, or should I say, regressive.

Competition? Can I buy health insurance from a provider in another state? Hmm, so much for really trying to foster competition.

Speaking of put up... Oh never mind.

Lanivan

Interstate insurance policies: Insurance firms in each state are protected from interstate competition by the federal McCarran-Ferguson Act (1945), which grants states the right to regulate health plans within their borders. Large employers who self-insure are exempt from these state regulations. The result has been a patchwork of 50 different sets of state regulations; the cost for an insurer licensed in one state to enter another state market is often high. A growing number of state legislators are interested in whether some states allow or facilitate the purchase of health insurance across state boundaries or from out-of-state regulated companies. NCSL's state health insurance research and tracking shows a growing number of states (at least 21 so far) and state legislators considering this idea during the past five years and continuing to the present (listed below).

Note that “self-insured” or “self-funded” health coverage usually offered by large employers (especially with 500+ employees) is not regulated by states and is guided by the federal ERISA law, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Federally authorized “health savings accounts” and accompanying High Deductible Health Policies (HDHPs) are exempt from much of state regulation, including some state mandates.

Origins and history: All 50 states regulate health insurance and have done so for decades. While laws vary from state to state, they generally provide a structure that combines business regulation, employer incentives and consumer protections and obligations. The variations can be extensive, especially affecting mandates or required benefits.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590), Section 1333 permits states to form health care choice inter-state compacts and allow insurers to sell policies in any state participating in the compact. Two or more states may enter into compacts under which one or more insurance plans may be offered in the such states, subject to the laws and regulations of the state in which it was written.

The insurer would remain subject to the market conduct, unfair trade practices, network adequacy, consumer protection, and dispute resolution standards of any state in which the insurance was sold, be licensed in each state, and notify consumers that it was not otherwise subject to the laws of the selling state. HHS would have to approve interstate insurance sales, certifying that the coverage would be as least as comprehensive as that sold through the exchange, provide coverage and cost-sharing protections at least as affordable and cover at least as many residents as coverage under Title I, and not increase the federal deficit.

http://www.ncsl.org/research/hea...

bigdeal

Doing TCR's research for them again Lani? Too bad they don't have the werewithal to do it themselves. Another poser who has never been on the website. I had insurance in ten minutes. Something I could not afford for the last two years due to health. Don't diss something you have not tried, it makes you look stupid, period.

Lanivan

The most important thing is that you are now covered under an affordable plan that can never drop you due to a pre-existing condition. I recall an experience many years ago when we were in the market for private health insurance, being turned down for something the insurance company termed a pre-existing condition - a one-time only minor infection, years before, that was gone in a few days after beginning antibiotics. I was stunned at that time - so I can empathize.

Tri-cities realist

While I agree with the pre-existing conditions clause, it necessarily raises rates. I just didn't see the need for all of the other rules and regulations of ACA.

Affordable is a relative term, for some yes, for others, not so much since rates have gone up. All this from a piece of legislation with "affordable" in its name. I've found that whatever the legislation is called, reality is often the opposite.

Mystic Michael

Requiring coverage of pre-existing medical conditions doesn't raise rates. Insurance companies raise rates. Not because they have to. Because they choose to.

The ACA simply requires them to be more honest. It keeps policy costs under control by requiring insurers to actually compete for your business. And it requires that they keep a certain amount of capital available at all times for doing what they were supposed to have done all along: pay out on legitimate claims.

What Big Insurance apparently would prefer we all forget, is the fact that they've just been given access to a huge new pool of customers. That was the deal they made. And they agreed to that trade-off willingly. In exchange for no longer diverting claims funds into executive bonuses, and now being made to compete fairly, they have an opportunity to "make it up on volume". And then some. It's almost like...actual capitalism!

Tri-cities realist

That's like saying politicians don't raise taxes, the legislation they write raises taxes. So logical!

Apparently you don't understand actuarial tables, or the concept of risk, when determining insurance rates.

And yes I understand that the insurance companies will do just fine with ACA. That is the thing with private enterprise, no matter how hard the govt tries to level the playing field, or otherwise interfere, people will come up with workarounds, call them loopholes if you must.

Lanivan

Insurance rates, like most pricing, is based primarily on sales. Sales are everything; nothing determines a business' success more than sales. And the insurance companies will see their sales go through the roof with millions of new customers - both healthy citizens, and those with pre-existing conditions. Which, by the way, encompasses most everybody past the age of 45.

The government kicks in with subsidies towards the premiums for the many Americans who could not afford decent insurance with decent levels of coverage.

The biggest workarounds are the right-wing branch of the GOP who are encouraging sabotage by telling people not to buy insurance, which is truly just plain stupid.

Mystic Michael

Your analogy of politicians and legislation is just adorable...but it has nothing to do with the point I raised about insurance companies gaming the system.

I understand actuarial tables just fine, thank you. But that's not what this is about. Insurance companies like to claim that the actuarial tables "tie their hands", making rate changes unavoidable - when many of them routinely generate windfall profits by ripping off their customers. With some of them, it's built right into the business model. And if you didn't realize that, you're the one who's knowledge deficient.

Big Insurance isn't some kind of victim of government interference here. Their executives sat at a big table in the White House, and negotiated these terms with the President and his staff. And as usual, they're now trying to have it both ways: Taking advantage of the huge new customer base, while simultaneously trying to lock in as many scam, no-coverage policies as they can, prior to January 1st. Weasels!

Lanivan

Some rates have gone up - on those policies that were sub-par and now must meet ACA basic standards. Many rates have gone down - due to the competitive forces of the market exchanges.

Tri-cities realist

My question was rhetorical. I wasn't sure if MM was aware that under ACA, insurance companies have to jump through HHS hoops to sell insurance across state lines.

And according to your (il)logic, I should try cocaine. No thanks.

Mystic Michael

"HHS hoops"? First you insinuate that interstate insurance business isn't allowed at all. Then when informed that the ACA actually facilitates interstate insurance coverage, you complain about the HHS oversight that's in place - apparently never dreaming that it exists to protect consumers (that's you and me) from exploitation and abuse.

You're the kind of person who, having been in a traffic accident, would rail against the EMS ambulance staff for taking you to the hospital, thereby infringing upon your "liberty" to die like a dog by the side of the road.

Tri-cities realist

Before ACA, states could enter contracts with each other, but since states can't be trusted to know what might be good for their residents, now HHS must approve any contracts. So much leaner!

Lanivan

"HHS would have to approve interstate insurance sales, certifying that the coverage would be as least as comprehensive as that sold through the exchange, provide coverage and cost-sharing protections at least as affordable and cover at least as many residents as coverage under Title I, and not increase the federal deficit."

Sounds perfectly logical and sensible to me. Why the complaint?

Tri-cities realist

"HHS would have to approve interstate insurance sales..." Apparently the new definition of competition is whatever the govt will allow.

LuditeHunter

The best we can hope for is that influence-peddlers and government bureaucrats make wise decisions about our health care, just as they did with Solyndra, Social Security, public education and the Amtrak food service. Oops! (Only the government could lose billions of dollars with a monopoly.) From the people who brought you the Postal Service ... here's Obamacare!

It's the homework requirement that is the most annoying aspect of Obamacare. Sure, millions of Americans will lose their health insurance and be forced to buy plans they don't want. And many, many millions will no longer be able to go to the doctor of their choosing -- or any doctor at all!

But we've also all been given homework -- mountains of reports, exchanges, insurance plans and mail to study. I'd prefer a prostate exam to this forced busy-work under Obamacare.

What if Americans don't want to spend weeks online figuring out their new insurance options? What if we don't want to provide the government with reams of personal information simply to be able to buy health insurance? What if we just want to pay our doctor directly for a yearly checkup? Why do we have to examine HHS regulations to find out how much that's going to cost us in fines and taxes?

The smart people in the Soviet Union tried to plan the nation's agriculture, and the result was 50 years of "bad weather." And they were dealing with inert objects -- land, seeds and crops.

They didn't have to consider whether the fertilizer was a teetotaler who didn't anticipate needing substance abuse therapy or a priest who preferred to skimp on marital counseling insurance.

Our central planners think they can direct something infinitely more complex than farmland: human beings and their individual health needs. Under Obamacare, the pushy and the connected win. Everyone else loses.

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